What Do Copperheads Eat? 13 Common Foods in Their Diet

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: February 15, 2022
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Copperheads, like many other snakes, are highly venomous and dangerous. They tend to strike and bite, especially when accidentally touched or trampled. Copperheads are among the most common North American snakes, usually medium-sized, and are about 2-3 feet long.

The head of a copperhead is usually broad and copper-colored, while the lower or underside is typically pink in color. Copperheads are similar to other snakes, and knowledge about what they eat is an excellent way to differentiate them from others. 

In this article, you will learn fascinating things about what exactly copperheads eat, how they eat, and how they find food in their habitats. 

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What Do Copperheads Eat? 

What Do Copperheads Eat
Copperheads eat meat and are predominantly carnivores.

A-Z-Animals.com

Being predominantly carnivores, copperheads eat meat. Their diet largely depends on their current environment and the food present there. Copperheads are known to eat any animal that is small enough to be eaten, which is why they sometimes eat their young too. 

Since copperheads food intake depends on their environment, in the wild, copperheads majorly eat mice, amphibians, and insects, depending on what they get. They eat cicadas too. As pets, copperheads are often fed with small mice, frogs, and lizards. 

Below is a complete list of foods copperheads consume most times.

According to some studies in Kansas, even though it is well known that copperheads eat a lot of cicadas, it was found that they consume prairie voles more than cicadas. It was also discovered that baby copperheads don’t eat the same prey as adults. Most times, young copperheads eat insects, caterpillars, and smaller frogs, while the adults eat more mice and birds. 

Additionally, copperheads eat about 1.25 to 2 times their body weight every season. Therefore, every year, they roughly consume about two times their body weight in preys. During the summer, copperheads can survive with just one meal every three weeks, and they can go all winter without eating anything. 

What Does a Copperhead Snake Look Like
Copperheads eat two times their body weight in a year

Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com

What Animals are Copperheads’ Predators?

Copperheads are apex predators and are near the top of their food chain. They generally lay an ambush in search of their food. So, they hardly have natural predators, especially adult copperheads. 

But in times of low resources, copperheads can, once in a while, become significant targets for other animals at the apex of the food chain too. Animals like owls, hawks, opossums, raccoons, and some other snakes can prey on them in times like this. 

How Do Copperheads Hunt for Food? 

Copperheads are majorly ambush predators in the sense that they wait patiently for their prey in a motionless manner to come within their range. They also possess heat-sensing pits around their face, between the eyes and nostrils, which helps them locate their prey after it is dead. This is the reason copperheads are referred to as pit vipers. 

Usually, when copperheads see a big prey, they locate it and strike immediately, allowing them to escape knowing that their dangerous venom will kill the target. Then, after some time, when they believe the prey must be dead, they search for the spoils. At this point, their heat-sensing pits locate the warm-blooded prey. Also, copperhead organs of smell help them in finding the target. 

Copperheads come out depending on the season. During the spring and fall, they are usually out during the day searching for prey. But during the summer, they become nocturnal and operate most times at night. Their pits also help them in guiding their attack. The young copperheads possess yellow-tipped tails, usually to attract small prey like frogs. 

Are Copperheads Dangerous to Humans? 

What Does a Copperhead Snake Look Like
Baby copperheads eat insects, caterpillars and very small frogs

Jeff W. Jarrett/Shutterstock.com

Copperheads live comfortably in human environments. According to a publication by the National History Publication Series, copperheads are highly venomous snakes and members of the pit viper family. This sends a message that they are dangerous to humans when bitten. 

Fortunately, a copperhead’s venom isn’t very dangerous to humans compared to the toxins from other snakes. It isn’t very potent. Obviously, the bite is painful but is almost not fatal to humans. Only the tissues in the area bitten will be temporarily damaged. Urgent medical help will salvage the situation. 

The bite of copperheads can only be a threat to people who have issues with their immune systems. But one thing to note about copperheads is that they are lethargic and don’t strike and bite unless they are disturbed. Therefore, once copperheads sense any disturbance that looks like danger, they attack immediately without warning.

Will Cicadas Attract More Copperheads to an Environment? 

It is a known fact that Copperheads tend to consume cicadas more than other foods. Usually, cicadas spring out from foliage and trees, especially during the summer periods. 

An exciting thing about cicadas is that they shed their skin after some time, and copperheads, when they prey on them, usually feed on their skins alongside them. In shedding their skin, they are often motionless, which makes it possible for copperheads to prey on them with ease and with enough feeding time. 

Cicadas can’t attract copperheads to areas they have dominated. But instead, the copperheads that tend to feed on them are those that exist in that area already. 

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Weakest animals copperhead snake
A Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) lying on leaf litter, taken in New Jersey.
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